LAHORE: A thick blanket of toxic black smog engulfed the entire metropolitan of Lahore around 9PM Wednesday night, forcing many residents to either literally gasp for breath or complain about sore throats and watery eyes.
Caused predominantly by car fumes, industrial emissions, smoke coming out of hundreds brick kilns around the city, burning of rubbish and crop residue in nearby fields, and dust flying from the building sites, the smog in Lahore has forced Punjab government to announce the closure of all schools tomorrow (Thursday) despite earlier paying a deaf ear to the extremely hazardous situation.
Television reports had revealed that in Lahore's posh Zaman Park — the otherwise clean and green locality where Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan lives — an Air Quality Index (AQI) of around 640 was recorded late Wednesday evening, comfortably crossing the threshold for ‘hazardous’ level of air quality, which is 300. Despite having an AQI of Level 6, life in Lahore was on the move.
And if a much cleaner Zaman Park crossed the 600 mark, one can imagine the level of air quality in dirty low-lying areas and congested localities with a lot of traffic rush all the day round.
Smog, together with a gusty storm, had made driving any kind of vehicle virtually impossible. While it was a Herculean task for the drivers to look forward through the wind screens of their vehicles, their wipers lacked the capacity to clear smog.
By the way, as the experience of the last two or three years tells many living in Lahore, car wipers can wipe off heavy rain water or a layer of mud or dust, but cannot clear smog.
An AQI is used by government agencies to communicate to the public how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become in near future.
Air pollution is expected to cause around seven million premature deaths globally this year and have a major economic impact, according to a report, but Environment protection agencies in Pakistan have visibly not done enough to counter this threat.
Just a day ago, on November 5, 2019, an eminent British newspaper " The Telegraph" had written that the highest AQI reading anywhere in London was currently 65.
The reputed media outlet had added: "The recommended World Health Organization safe daily maximum is 25, and anything above 300 is considered "hazardous."
About New Delhi, it had viewed: "Every winter, the megacity of 20 million people is blanketed by car fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from stubble burning at farms in neighbouring states."
Interestingly, this media house had published the list of world's 20 most polluted cities with their current AQI status and Lahore was 19th on the list less than 24 hours ago, although according to rankings released by the World AQI, Lahore was ranked the second most polluted city on October 29.
Indian capital New Delhi ranked first with an average concentration of fine particulate matter at 373 AQI, followed by Lahore at 188 AQI in cubic metre of air. Earlier, the Punjab provincial capital was briefly ranked first in the list of most polluted cities.
Karachi, on the other hand, was ranked seventh with an average of 153 AQI.
Air pollution is expected to cause over seven million premature deaths around the world this year and have a major impact on the global economy in the future.
Lahore’s air pollution is caused largely by vehicle and industrial emissions, smoke of burning garbage and crop residue and dust from construction sites.
According to The Telegraph, these are the world's 20 most polluted cities as well as their current AQI: Peshawar (540), Rawalpindi (448), Kanpur, India (319), Hamad Town, Bahrain (318), Faridabad, India (316), Delhi, India (292), Karachi (290), Gaya, India (275), Patna, India (266), Varanasi, India (260), Ma’ameer, Bahrain (257), Lucknow, India (255), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (251), Ras Hayan, Bahrain (250), Nabih Saleh, Bahrain (244), Muzaffarpur, India (221), Islamabad (217), Narayangonj, Bangladesh (205), Lahore (198), and Ulaanbaatar (197).
The Telegraph had added: "The World Health Organization (WHO) tracks air quality at more than 1,600 locations in nearly 100 countries – but all are urban areas. So while Pakistan, Egypt and Mongolia are among the most polluted countries according to the 2018 World Air Quality Report, this only refers to pollution in cities.
"Air quality in the Karakoram mountain range or the Gobi Desert will, of course, be pristine. Bangladesh’s urban areas are, on average, the world's most polluted, followed by Pakistan and India. Europe’s most polluted cities are found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo."
The 20 countries with the most polluted urban areas include: Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Mongolia, Kuwait, Nepal, UAE, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, Uganda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kosovo, and Kazakhstan.
The 20 countries with the least polluted urban areas include: Iceland, Finland, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, UK, Malta, Luxembourg, Russia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Japan, and Germany.
The AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the more serious the health concern.
Research shows that according to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, an AQI of 300 and beyond (Level 6) means the air quality of a particular locality is severely polluted. Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities and may also show noticeably strong symptoms. Other illnesses may be triggered in healthy people. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid outdoor activities.
Children, seniors and the sick should stay indoors and avoid physical exertion. General population should avoid outdoor activities
Public health risks increase as the AQI rises. Different countries have their own air quality indices, corresponding to different national air quality standard.
Computation of the AQI requires an air pollutant concentration over a specified averaging period, obtained from an air monitor. Taken together, concentration and time represent the dose of the air pollutant. Health effects corresponding to a given dose are established by epidemiological research
An AQI of 0–50 (Level 1) is deemed excellent as there are no health implications. Everyone can continue their outdoor activities normally.
An AQI of 51–100 (Level 2) is considered good as some pollutants may slightly affect very few hypersensitive individuals. Only very few hypersensitive people should reduce outdoor activities.
An AQI of 101–150 (Level 3) is considered slightly polluted and healthy people may experience light irritations. However, sensitive individuals will be slightly affected to a larger extent. Children, seniors and individuals with respiratory or heart diseases should reduce sustained and high-intensity outdoor exercises.
An AQI of 151–200 (Level 4) is a case of moderate pollution. Sensitive individuals will experience more serious conditions. The hearts and respiratory systems of healthy people may be affected. In these circumstances, children, elderly and individuals with respiratory or heart diseases should avoid sustained and high-intensity outdoor exercises. General population should moderately reduce outdoor activities
An AQI of 201–300 (Level 5) is deemed to be a case of heavy pollution. Healthy people will commonly show symptoms. People with respiratory or heart diseases will be significantly affected and will experience reduced endurance in activities. Children, seniors and individuals with heart or lung diseases should stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities. General population should reduce outdoor activities.
An AQI of 300 and beyond (Level 6) means the air quality of a particular locality is severely polluted. Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities and may also show noticeably strong symptoms. Other illnesses may be triggered in healthy people. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid outdoor activities.
Children, seniors and the sick should stay indoors and avoid physical exertion. General population should avoid outdoor activities.
It is imperative to note that in October 2019, relevant Pakistani departments had organisation noted that the AQI in Lahore had reached 484.
And just a couple of days ago, while admitting that smog was a big issue, Adviser to Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, had said Pakistan had taken measures to stop crops stubble burning, a major cause of the phenomenon, and other countries should also come forward to address it.
The adviser had said the AQI of Lahore was much better than that of New Delhi.
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